ALMA Polarimetry Measures Magnetically Aligned Dust Grains in the Torus of NGC 1068

Enrique Lopez-Rodriguez, Almudena Alonso-Herrero, Santiago García-Burillo, Michael S. Gordon, Kohei Ichikawa, Masatoshi Imanishi, Seiji Kameno, Nancy A. Levenson, Robert Nikutta, Chris Packham

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20 Citations (Scopus)


The obscuring structure surrounding active galactic nuclei (AGN) can be explained as a dust and gas flow cycle that fundamentally connects the AGN with their host galaxies. This structure is believed to be associated with dusty winds driven by radiation pressure. However, the role of magnetic fields, which are invoked in almost all models for accretion onto a supermassive black hole and outflows, has not been thoroughly studied. Here we report the first detection of polarized thermal emission by means of magnetically aligned dust grains in the dusty torus of NGC 1068 using ALMA Cycle 4 polarimetric dust continuum observations (0.″07, 4.2 pc; 348.5 GHz, 860 μm). The polarized torus has an asymmetric variation across the equatorial axis with a peak polarization of 3.7% ± 0.5% and position angle of 109° ± 2° (B-vector) at ∼8 pc east from the core. We compute synthetic polarimetric observations of magnetically aligned dust grains assuming a toroidal magnetic field and homogeneous grain alignment. We conclude that the measured 860 μm continuum polarization arises from magnetically aligned dust grains in an optically thin region of the torus. The asymmetric polarization across the equatorial axis of the torus arises from (1) an inhomogeneous optical depth and (2) a variation of the velocity dispersion, i.e., a variation of the magnetic field turbulence at subparsec scales, from the eastern to the western region of the torus. These observations and modeling constrain the torus properties beyond spectral energy distribution results. This study strongly supports that magnetic fields up to a few parsecs contribute to the accretion flow onto the active nuclei.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Apr 10


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